Latest Channel 4 News:
Row over Malaysian state's coins
'Four shot at abandoned mine shaft'
Rain fails to stop Moscow wildfires
Cancer blow for identical twins
Need for Afghan progress 'signs'

The rise and fall of Gordon Brown

By Alice Tarleton

Updated on 10 May 2010

"I have no desire to stay in my position longer than is needed" Gordon Brown announces his intention to step down as Labour leader but what are the key events that defined and ended Brown's political career?

Gordon Brown

After a 13-year rivalry with his predecessor Tony Blair, Gordon Brown took over the Labour leadership unopposed in June 2007.

But nearly three years later, one of the key architects of new Labour has announced his intention to step aside as Labour leader in the wake of the party's general election defeat which was dominated by bigotgate and the Leaders' debates. 

In light of the continual threats to Brown's leadership of the Labour party over the past few years it's easy to forget that at the start of his tenure in Downing street he faced some challenging tasks.

Just days into the job, Brown's leadership was tested by attempted terrorist attacks in London and Glasgow.

A resurgence of foot and mouth disease caused him to cut short his summer holiday, and he approved a bail out (and later nationalisation) of Northern Rock as queues of savers gathered at the troubled bank.

His aides felt his calm response to the summer's crises showed voters that the man who had spent a decade in the Treasury did have what it took to act as a leader of the nation.

The election that never was

Riding high in the polls, Labour insiders discussed going to the polls that autumn, two-and-a-half years before they were obliged to do so.

But at the Conservative party's October conference, Shadow Chancellor George Osborne unveiled a popular surprise plan to raise the inheritance tax threshold to £1m. Brown was also criticised for grabbing headlines during the Tory conference with an announcement on troops leaving Iraq.

The polling gap between Labour and the Tories suddenly looked far less certain, but Brown did little to quell the early election rumours until the end of a week of feverish speculation.

More from Channel 4 News
- Brown to step aside as Labour leader
- Gary Gibbon's politics blog
- Who Knows Who: Gordon Brown
- 'Bigotgate' in 60 seconds

He told the BBC's Andrew Marr he would not be calling an election as he wanted more time to put his policies into practice. But even before the interview was broadcast, opponents were painting Brown as a weak, indecisive ditherer - labels he struggled to shake off.

Brown insisted he was "getting on with the job" of steering the country through the escalating international banking crisis.

Rebellions and coup attempts

But by the spring, he faced a backbench rebellion over his decision as chancellor to scrap the 10p starter rate of income tax paid by the lowest earners. When the move came into force, it left some of the poorest worse off, until Chancellor Alistair Darling eventually announced a £2.7bn partial compensation package.

Rumours of a leadership coup intensified when Labour lost the previously safe Crewe and Nantwich seat in a by-election fought on an anti-"Tory toffs" campaign.

Finally, just days before the party's autumn conference, junior Labour whip Siobhan McDonagh became the first member of the government to call publicly for a leadership contest.

The rebellion was quashed, and a month later new Labour founder - and long-time Brown enemy - Peter Mandelson was awarded a peerage and brought back into the government as Brown's right-hand man.

In April 2009, world leaders, including Barack Obama, gathered around Brown in London for the G20 summit. But within 10 days, he was rocked by another domestic scandal - leaked emails from his close aide Damian McBride suggesting a smear campaign against leading Conservatives.

His attempt to lay down the law over the expenses scandal with a YouTube-launched plan to abolish the second home allowance was rejected by MPs. Even former deputy PM John Prescott mocked the PM's smile in what soon became a notorious video.

That summer, Brown saw off another, more serious, leadership attempt. A spate of key Blairite figures, including cabinet ministers Hazel Blears and James Purnell, and Europe minister Caroline Flint, resigned as Labour fought European and local elections.

But Brown was able to cling on with the support of senior ministers including David Miliband, Peter Mandelson and Alistair Darling.

In January, former ministers Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon wrote to Labour MPs calling for a secret leadership ballot. But with just months to go before a general election, there was little appetite to push Brown down the plank. Weeks later, Britain's economy officially emerged from the longest recession in history.

He made a rare apology this year for telling parliament and the Iraq inquiry that defence spending had risen in real terms every year - something Channel 4 News's FactCheck had pointed out was untrue.

Election 2010

Earlier this year, Brown came close to tears when discussing the death of his daughter, Jennifer Jane, in a TV interview.

His wife Sarah, a former PR executive with a huge following on the social networking site Twitter, was rarely far from his side on the campaign trail.

While a teenager, Brown lost the sight in one eye in a rugby accident so during the Leaders' debates, Brown insisted on standing stage right so that he could see his opponents clearly.  But, while his performance grew more confident with each subsequent debate, in the eyes of the electorate he failed to make enough of an impression.

The son of a Church of Scotland minister, one of Brown's most passionate speeches during the election campaign was made to an audience of volunteers at Methodist Central Hall.

But his campaign was tarnished by his description of long-term Labour supporter Gillian Duffy as a "bigot" after she questioned him on immigration. Forgetting that he was still wearing a microphone as he drove away, the PM grumpily demanded to know who had arranged for him to meet "that woman".

Brown apologised to her in person, describing himself as a "penitent sinner". But although Labour managed to hold the Rochdale seat where the encounter took place, it was one of the defining moments of the election campaign.

Although polls at many points during Brown's leadership suggested the Tories were on course for a landslide victory, in the end the party failed to secure an overall majority.

But Labour lost 91 seats, and its Commons majority, in last week's election.

Although constitutionally the sitting PM gets the first attempt at forming a government in the event of a hung parliament, even an alliance between Labour and the Lib Dems would have failed to make up the required numbers.

Pressure built on Brown to step aside after Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said the Tories were the party with the clearest mandate.

Send this article by email

More on this story

Channel 4 is not responsible for the content of external websites.

Watch the Latest Channel 4 News

Watch Channel 4 News when you want

Latest Vote 2010 news

More News blogs

View RSS feed

Winners and losers


What can we expect from the Con-Lib Dem coalition government?

Cabinet connections

The Con-Lib coalition Cabinet (Reuters)

Who Knows Who looks for "new politics" in the Con-Lib Cabinet

Marriage of convenience

Wedding cake (Getty)

Can former political rivals make the Con-Lib coalition work?

Missing women?


With four women cabinet members has old politics really ended?

The rise and fall of Brown


The events that defined and ended Brown's political career.

Sibling rivalry?


Who Knows Who finds out who could replace Gordon Brown.

Loss leaders

Jacqui Smith (Getty)

Jacqui Smith is one of several high- profile election losers.

Election night in 60

Blue Big Ben

From single-party rule to a hung parliament in one minute.

Election results - live blog

Live blog teaser

Missed the day? Read our live blog to see how it happened.

Channel 4 © 2010. Channel 4 is not responsible for the content of external websites.